BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 01 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
Tuscacora to Big Sag
August 27, 2010
Missing Link Lake
Saganaga Lake (55)
Number of Days:
Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake
Another year, another “big trip” for Matt, Gopher and I (RT). We headed to Grand Marais from Duluth at 0530 on Friday, which is pretty standard routine for us; leave early to get on the water early. The drive up was great. There is something about that drive up 61 into Grand Marais (and the drive up the Gunflint Trail) that really gets me (and us) into the BW Vacation mode. Especially early in the morning.
We hit GM at a little past 0800 so we decided to hit up the Holiday station for some last minute supplies (some beef jerky and Mtn Dew) before heading over to the Beaver House to pick up some Buzz Bait lures and some other fishing supplies before heading to the outfitter (Seagull Outfitters) at the end of the Gunflint.
The drive up the Gunflint went quickly. We were scheduled to put in on Round Lake (Missing Link Lake EP#51) and, since it was on the way to the outfitters (where our permits were waiting) we decided to drop off all of our gear, canoe, kayak, and Matt, at Round Lake, near the EP while Gopher and I went on to Seagull Outfitters and got all of the paperwork in order.
We got underway at a bit past 1000 and quickly made our way across Round Lake and Missing Link Lake. Then... the 366 rod portage into Tuscacora. What a bitch! I know that a lot of people think it is pretty easy, and I guess, compared to other portages it is, but... what a pain in the ass. We are the double portage type so we got to do the damn thing three times (once with packs, then the walk back, then again with the boats). If you ever consider going in this way with a kayak (which Gopher did) then here is a hint; DON'T!
With the portage done we hit Tuscacora. We grabbed the first site we could find (first on the right as you face the lake) and decided to stay. That evening, while gorgeous warm and cloudless, was very windy. We cooked up some grub, smoked some cigars, drank some booze and just relaxed for the night. It was a hard day, but well worth it.
A beautiful morning on the lakes. Right after breakfast (bagels, bacon and eggs) we decided to be extremely lazy and do a layover day on Tuscacora; having heard stories of all of the great fishing. We have since decided that those stories are lies. We didn’t get a single bite. It is our fault for that though; we were having more fun exploring the lake and the open camp sites. The site on the island is awesome! We would have switched sites but the wind was so crazy (strong 20+ mph with 30+ gusts) that it would not have been worth the hassle.
The entire day was spent paddling around Tuscacora (fishing and taking pictures) and being as lazy as possible. There are just some days where traveling comes in second to enjoying being out in the middle of nowhere and exploring the location you are at. I would write more about the day, but there is no more to tell about it. It was relaxing, restful and glorious.
I should report something though; Gopher, being the type of guy he is (i.e., forgetful) discovered that he left a bunch of gear at home. Including: his dishes, his towel, his headlamp, the Shore Lunch (for cooking fish – which didn’t matter seeing as I forgot the cooking oil) as well as a bunch of pointless gear that isn’t really needed (pencil and paper, et al). Most of his trip, while relaxing, was spent mooching gear off of Matt and I. I cannot pass all of the blame on Gopher, though. I forgot the Miracle Whip for the tuna and the peanut butter for the bread. No complaints though. We tend to over pack way too much.
Tuscarora Lake, Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
We had no other itinerary other than go where our whims take us so we packed up our gear, ate breakfast (eggs, bacon and toast – side note; I do not feel that bacon and eggs are worth it to take into the BW and we have decided that our standard breakfasts of oatmeal, breakfast bars and pancakes are all we are going to bring in the future) and hit the water for places as yet unvisited by us.
We took our time as we crossed Owl, Crooked, Tarry and Mora Lakes. Our destination was Little Sag Lake, which is not that far of a paddle from Tuscacora so we did not rush a thing. Mora and Little Sag are gorgeous lakes. Mora in particular has some fantastic sites. Not the greatest pads (I like to visit every site I pass if I can) but some of the oldest growth areas I have ever been to in the BW. Some of the Cedar trees were so large that I could barely reach around them and touch my fingers together.
We did have a major accident as soon as we reached Little Sag, though. I take a pack full of camera gear with me and, while getting back into the canoe I slipped on the rocks and slid into the lake. While I saved my camera and camera bag by taking the brunt of the fall, my long lens (300mm) slipped out and plunked into the lake. With a bit of luck I will be able to clean and restore it but… I am not sure.
We reached a site on the far West side of Little Sag about mid day. The wind from the previous days had not let up so we skipped by two fantastic sites (with awesome views and swimming areas) in favor of a site that was more sheltered from the wind. It was not a great site by any means but, with booze, cigars and a good meal, any site in the BW is a relaxing site. A bit of weather rolled in on us during the night and sprinkled a bit but it was nothing and the next morning dawned bright and perfect.
Little Saganaga Lake, Rattle Lake, Gabimichigami Lake, Agamok Lake, Mueller Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake
While the sunshine was out in force the wind still did not want to die down. It did, however, change direction. We were looking forward to having the wind at our backs but it was not to be. We woke early with the idea that we would take our time and get up into Gabimichigami Lake. We crossed Little Sag Lake with no problems; enjoying the views around the islands and the general pleasantness of the lake. During the night before and this day we only saw one other canoe. I think the portage into Tuscacora keeps people away; not that I am complaining about that.
We took our time paddling around the islands on our way to the Rattle lake portage with the idea that would stay on Gabi. It was all going to plan until we hit the big Gabi waters. The wind was whipping, making one to two-foot waves. Sick of staying on sites that were wind-whipped we decided to brave the big water and we crossed the center of Gabi. Some people would have just tossed in and called it a wind-locked day but we had been in much worse before and we went for it. We kept the canoe at a 45 to the waves and just concentrated on a “slow and steady” pace, letting the wind keep the stern inline. At no point did I feel scared and the canoe (a Wenonah Escape Kevlar) managed the waves better than I could have hoped. Gopher, in his kayak, fared a bit worse (taking a bit of water between his sea-skirt) than Matt and I.
With the crossing of Gabi done we hit into Agamok Lake. The wind was once again in our face but since the heat of the day was close to (if not past) 80 degrees it was a welcome respite. However, once we got onto the portage for Mueller Lake the heat was oppressive as the humidity under the trees was creating a steamy enviroment. Portaging in that kind of heat sucks, as anyone who has done it can tell you. Our lucky break was that I realized we were near the Agamok Bridge (a location I had read about here on the BWCA.com message boards) so we decided to take the Kekekebek Trail and give a look.
What a perfect place to take a swim! The Agamok Bridge crosses a small waterfall in a narrow gulch. The water at the base of the waterfall is at least 20+ feet deep and a perfect pool. Steep cliffs on both sides provided me (an adrenalin junkie) with a bit of a jumping opportunity so I took the plunge that way. We spent an hour or more just cooling down. If you ever get this way on your own trip, and you need a quick dip, I highly suggest swimming at Agamok Bridge.
After completing the portage into Mueller Lake we continued on until we hit Ogishkemuncie Lake. I must take a moment to explain the portage from Mueller Lake into Ogish. Of all the portages I have ever been on, this is by far the most awesome. It follows a ridge and on the left side, down a narrow gulch, is the stream connecting the two lakes. I could have spent a day just exploring this portage and all of the photo opportunities that it had. It was pretty enough that, after we finished the portage, we took another swim. I want to visit this place again in the future.
Our day done, we hit a campsite on Ogish (a site in the group of islands on the South side of the lake), set up camp, had dinner, more booze, more cigars and watched the stars. This was one of the most perfect days I have ever had in the BW.
With no place to go, and with no set plan on what to see, we decided to play lazy again and spent a lay- over day on Ogish. Fishing was a priority and we hit the lake hard only to be somewhat skunked. We caught some bass (for eating) but didn’t get the Walleye or Northern we were jonezing for. Other than being lazy, taking naps, fishing, exploring the other sites and islands and just staring off into the distance, we did nothing. It was great.
There is one thing to mention however… if you visit the BW and you forget your fish fry oil and your Shore Lunch we discovered a novel way to eat any fish you catch. This idea is completely Gopher’s. Did you know: if you gut your fish and spear them through the mouth with a stick you can roast them over the fire like marshmallows? I would not have tried it if we had our oil but… IT WORKS! And it does not taste all that bad either. The skin pulls off easily and you just munch away. It is like eating corn on the cob.
Ogishkemuncie Lake, Annie Lake, Jenny Lake, Jasper Lake, Eddy Lake, South Arm Knife Lake, Hanson Lake
After breakfast we had a hard decision to make. Should we go back up Ogish, into Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake and eventually Seagull Lake? Or (because we are not fans of the burned areas – which Jasper and Alpine are) do we head toward Eddy and head into Hanson Lake? Our decision came quickly; Hanson Lake and a return to one of the sites that we have not stayed at since our very first "big trip" into the BW, in 2006.
Crossing Annie and Jenny lakes were uneventful. Nice and quiet with most of the continuing wind being blocked by the trees. On Eddy Lake though we ran into a group of Scouts; old friends now into their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who were all group leaders at one point. We sat on the shore of the portage to Knife Lake and talked for a little while (Gopher being an old Eagle Scout himself) before pushing on. (Thanks to the guy who hooked me up with a cigarette.)
The Knife Lake crossing was windy but uneventful as well and we headed for the portage into Hanson Lake. We spied the portage, put to shore, and started to unload the gear. Then we discovered that we were not at the portage. It was just a sandy area that many people before us mistook as the portage. We laughed it off, ate lunch and paddled the 200 yards or so to the actual portage into Hanson. If you are looking for a site in the BW with a sandy beach there is a site right next to the portage on the Knife Lake side that fits the bill for you.
We made it to the Hanson Lake site by early afternoon, set up camp and relaxed once again (can you see the common thread to this trip yet?) on the lake shore. Dinner was good, swimming was better (if somewhat cold) and that night I finally got to indulge in something I have always wanted to do. There was no wind at all that evening and the water was glassy calm so we climbed into the canoe and paddled around Hanson Lake. The stars reflected off the water like a mirror. In fact, water was so calm and smooth that, despite not moving at all, it felt like we were moving in all directions at once. I cannot explain the feeling beyond that. I would love to camp in my canoe on nights like that. Too bad some clouds rolled in on us during the night.
We woke up to rain. Not super heavy, but enough to be annoying. I hung a tarp just out of reach of the fire pit and Matt, Gopher and I plunked down for breakfast of pancakes and gorp. While the rain let up after only an hour or so it was a generally overcast and cool day. Since we had no where we needed to be, and our out date was not until Saturday, we just collected any firewood we could find and sat staring at the flames for the entire day. The conversation was good, the gorp was better and the coffee and hot coco was the best. As the day drew to a close we hunkered down in my tent (it had begun to rain again) and played poker into the evening.
Hanson Lake, Ester Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Swamp Lake, Big Sag
It was still raining when we awoke. The wind had returned with a vengeance and was blowing straight into our faces; the direction that we had to travel. Our goal was just to make it to Swamp Lake (a place that we constantly see moose) and stay the night but as we headed out we realized that it was not going to be an easy day. The waves on Hanson and Ester Lakes were brutal; nothing too terribly bad (about the same as our crossing of Gabi earlier in the trip) but none too fun all the same.
As the day progressed we started to meet up with other paddlers. People, like us, who were too dumb to wait and just wanted to continue to travel to a new destination. On Ottertrack lake we saw the most canoes we had seen during the entire trip (up until this point we had only met two groups at portages and saw three other canoes on the water), with four boats traveling South West and two going in our direction; North East.
We hit Monument Portage, humped our gear over the very wet and slippery rocks, helped the guys who were right behind us at the portage (who relayed info about a possible problem bear on/near Robbins Island on the South end of Knife Lake) and plopped into Swamp Lake. As we paddled we noticed that every site was taken by smart people waiting out the storm. We also passed a group of eight going in the other direction. Thinking that we were going to have to paddle Big Sag we asked how the waves were; they laughed and said “Good Luck!”.
The waves and wind were not bad at all on Swamp Lake. It was when we neared the narrow area that leads onto Big Sag that we saw the kind of hell we were in for. The waves were rolling! Not one or two- footers, but two to three-footers (with a four-footer popping up now and then). We decided that we made it this far, if we just keep to the shore, keep our heads about ourselves, and paddle “slow but steady” (paying attention to the waves) we could make it to Rocky Point (American Point) in relative safety.
To say that we (Matt and I) were a bit nervous is an understatement. The canoe, now dubbed the Wenonah Warrior (“Escape” my ass; that boat takes a beating and keep on tracking straight) tracked brilliantly across the waves. We were rocking and rolling up two and three-foot waves with only the rare wave cresting the side of the canoe. I was in the Coast Guard (small boat rescue station) and I started to remember my training and by keeping the bow at a 45 to the waves we ended up performing great. There were three other boats trying to make the journey and all of them had to take stops on the shore and we ended up overtaking them. From the narrows to just south of Rocky Point it took us almost two hours; a distance of less than three miles.
We made it almost to the bay just south Rocky Point (where there is a bunch of campsites) when we decided to take a break. There is a sheltered beach just south of the bay and we noticed two canoes on it, so that is were we aimed. Once we hit the beach we discovered that the guys in those two canoes had dumped two hours earlier and were drying their gear by a fire they built under a tree. Seeing how cold they were (and when we found out the other guys in their group - with the cooking gear - rounded the point without them) we decided to cook them up some food (we had more than enough noodles left to share) and coffee. We sat on the beach talking when the canoes we had over taken paddled up. As we were all sitting there the Canadian Forest Ranger motored up and spoke with all of us, asking what our intentions were.
The guys who dumped were going to try for the Seagull Outfitters Tow-In/Drop-Off point on Hook Island. Matt, Gopher and I were intending to paddle all the way back to Seagull Outfitters (since we did not pre-plan for a tow-in) and the two boats that came up last were paddling for the same location as well. We asked the Forest Ranger to call Seagull to hide our car keys somewhere outside so we could get it (it was 1530 at this time and we did not see ourselves getting back before 2000) and we headed back onto the water.
Just as we rounded Rocky Point the Canadian Forest Ranger motored up in her Lund again and told us that it was too rough to be out and that we, the guys who dumped and the other two boats were to take a ride with the Seagull Outfitters boats back to EP #55 (all of our destinations). Seeing how big the waves were none of us refused. On the ride back we noticed that the waves in the bigger part of the lake (the wind was blowing from the North West) were approaching four to five footers (with a six plus scattered around) we knew that none of us would have made it. All of the campsites that we could see were full, the waves were approaching hellish size, and more rain was coming in. While I think we would have attempted it, I am glad for the tow. We would have been screwed. Our gear was wet and sleeping in a soaked tent with damp sleeping bags is not fun; though we have done it before.
Once off of Big Sag, Seagull Outfitters hooked us up with showers and hot coffee. It was about 1800 by the time we got off of the water and showered up. We packed up our gear, loaded up the canoe and headed back to Grand Marais for some Puff Taco’s at Hugie’s Taco House (which are fantastic). We made it back to Duluth by 2130 or so. Exhausted, windblown and sad to be back we ended up going to bed.
And so concludes the BWCA 2010 trip for my group and me. Saturday night we went out drinking (as is our ritual) and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Beer at Sir Benny's, martini's at Red Star, food at Fitgers and bar hopping all inbetween.
I am already gearing up in planning next years trip. I just have to figure out where I want to visit next!
I wish I had some pics from this day but because of the wind and rain and waves I decided not to take the chance with taking my camera out of its dry bag. The attached pic is from the Thursday, the day before. We should have guessed, judging by the clouds that day, that our paddle out was going to suck.